Philippine defense minister declares end to Marawi siege

Philippine defense minister declares end to Marawi siege

Reuters

The Philippines declared an end to five months of fierce urban warfare in a southern city held by pro-Islamic State militants in late October 2017, a battle that has marked the country’s biggest security crisis in years.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the military terminated combat operations after troops prevailed in the last stand against gunmen who clung on inside several buildings in the heart of Marawi.

“There are no more militants in Marawi,” he told reporters in Clark on the sidelines of a meeting of regional defense ministers. (Pictured: Philippine troops, one of the first battalions deployed to the besieged southern city of Marawi, arrive for a hero’s welcome at Villamor Air Base on October 20, 2017, as the military scales down its forces in Marawi after President Rodrigo Duterte declared its liberation.)

Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla confirmed there was still gunfire in the city, but there were “no more terrorists” in Marawi. He did not elaborate.

Padilla said the troops tried to convince the remaining rebels to surrender, but they refused. Two wives of fighters were among those killed.

The siege has stunned the Philippines and stoked wider concerns that Islamic State loyalists have ambitions to make the Muslim areas of the island of Mindanao a base for operations in Southeast Asia. The rebels’ ability to recruit young fighters, stockpile huge amounts of arms and endure 154 days of ground offensive and government airstrikes that have devastated the city compounded those fears.

Gen. Eduardo Ano, chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said that troops found at least 42 bodies of rebels in two buildings and a mosque in the battle zone. The defense secretary later said that they have crushed “the most serious attempt to export violent extremism and radicalism in the Philippines and in the region.”

“We have contributed to preventing its spread in Asia and gave our share to maintaining global peace, stability and security,” he added.

The military made significant gains in retaking Marawi since Isnilon Hapilon, Islamic State’s “emir” in Southeast Asia, and Omarkhayam Maute, a leader of the Maute militant group, were killed in an October 16, 2017, nighttime operation. Another leader and possible bankroller of the operation, Malaysian Mahmud Ahmad, was likely killed also, the military said.

Lorenzana said there would be other military operations and six battalions of troops would remain in Marawi. He did not elaborate on those operations.

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